Two Paths

by Sir0Chicken

A Lot To Digest

Fluttershy stood tall in front of Rainbow Dash, spice jar in hoof. "Now, what have we learned?"

Rainbow rolled her eyes, shoulders slouched. "Lots of control."

Fluttershy smirked. "Good."

"Cleaning and measuring." Rainbow's frown knew no depths.

Fluttershy on the other hand, seemed on the verge of laughter. "Yes, and most importantly?"

Rainbow let out a sigh of titanic proportions. "Caution."

Finally, a giggle escaped Fluttershy's lips and lingered in her voice as she spoke. "That's right, Rainbow Dash. Now that you know the elements of a good meal, let's get started."

Rainbow exhaled for what seemed like an eternity, but when she finished, even she couldn't suppress a soft chuckle. Walking with Fluttershy over the kitchen counter, she mumbled one word: "Yay."

Fortunately for Rainbow, preparing her dinner with Fluttershy took far less time than Fluttershy's impromptu training. It was just a simple salad. Rainbow tossed in the lettuce, tomatoes, celery, carrots…

Rainbow blinked and scrutinized her ingredients. None of these are carrots.

Rainbow looked around the kitchen for Fluttershy, but she was nowhere to be found. "Hey, Fluttershy," Rainbow called, scratching her head. "Where are the carrots?"

Suddenly, Fluttershy came in through the front door with a few carrots in her hooves. She shivered as she said, "Sorry, Rainbow Dash. I went out to get some carrots for the salad." She rubbed her shoulders and shook her head. "Brr, it's cold out there!"

Rainbow glanced out a window at the clear night sky. "Yeah, there's no cloud cover to keep the heat in. It'll be pretty chilly tonight."

Fluttershy's mouth dropped open. "Oh, Rainbow Dash, you'll be freezing out in your cloud home, won't you?"

Rainbow shrugged. "Eh, it's not that bad."

"You could stay here, you know," Fluttershy insisted, placing the carrots on a cutting board. She picked up a knife and started to slice the vegetables. "Angel's in the guest bedroom, but you could use my bed if you want."

Rainbow crinkled her nose and shook her head. "Come on, Fluttershy! I'm not going to steal your bed."

Fluttershy paused in her cutting to gaze directly at Rainbow. "But I couldn't bear to have you out there in the cold, Rainbow Dash."

With a sigh, Rainbow threw up her hooves. "Alright, fine." She pointed at Fluttershy and added, "You keep your bed, though. I can sleep on the couch or something."

Fluttershy's eyes glimmered as she stopped and gave Rainbow a hug. "I'll set things up after dinner, okay, Rainbow Dash."

Rainbow rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah." She thrust a hoof toward the half-cut carrots. "Now hurry up on those carrots, will you?"

Fluttershy picked her knife back up, but she continued cutting at the same methodical pace she had been using. "Caution, Rainbow Dash, remember?"

"I know." Rainbow threw up her hooves again. "I'll be happy when we get to the eating part."

With a giggle, Fluttershy finished chopping the carrots and dropped them into the salad bowl. "Not everything can be fast, Rainbow Dash—not even the fastest flier in Equestria. You just need to slow down sometimes and enjoy life."

Rainbow began tossing the salad, sending vegetables up in the air with reckless abandon. "Well how am I supposed to enjoy it all if I'm as slow as a snail?"

"Hey!" A flash of irritation passed through Fluttershy's expression. "I have some very good snail friends who wouldn't appreciate that comment."

"Of course you'd have snail friends," Rainbow muttered.

"Snails aren't slow. They're calm. They let life come to them." Fluttershy walked over to Rainbow's side and put a hoof on her shoulder. "You see, Rainbow Dash, life is a process. Snails know that sometimes, you just have to let it run its course." She glanced upward for a moment added, "You're getting tomato seeds in your mane."

"Ack!" Rainbow stopped tossing the salad and began running her hooves through her mane. "I for one think you need to actually get things done every once in a while. Sure, it can all be a process, but at some point you just have to mare up and take action."

Fluttershy smirked and patted Rainbow's back. "I know," she said, sauntering over to her cutting board and picking it up. She carried the board over to her sink and said, "You need to take opportunities when you find them." She turned back to Rainbow, still smirking. "Sometimes, though, you have to let the opportunities find you."

Rainbow furrowed her brow and stared at Fluttershy for a few seconds. After a brief pause, she shrugged and picked up the salad bowl. "Whatever, Fluttershy. You think this is ready?"

After grabbing a serving spoon from a nearby drawer, Fluttershy nodded and pointed to the dining room. "I'm sure it's perfect, Rainbow Dash."

"You don't have to tell me twice." Rainbow rushed to the dining room table with salad bowl in hoof, placing the bowl at the center of the table between two small plates. Sitting down, she picked up her fork and pointed at Fluttershy's chair. "You coming?"

"Of course, Dashie." Fluttershy took her seat and put the serving spoon in the bowl.

Rainbow chuckled as she reached for the serving spoon. "'Dashie.' I don't think you've ever called me that before."

"Oh." Fluttershy's ears flattened as she lowered her head. "I'm sorry, Rainbow Dash."

Rainbow held her hooves up and shook her head. "No, no, it's not a bad thing," she insisted. "It's just different." She grinned and began to scoop salad onto her plate. "I like it."

"Oh, okay." Fluttershy's ears perked back up and she smiled broadly. "How's the salad, Dashie?"

Rainbow smirked and shrugged. "I haven't had the chance to try any yet, but I'm sure it's awesome. I helped make it, after all."

Fluttershy's grin grew wider. "Definitely."

While some of the tomatoes had been squashed by Rainbow's overzealous mixing, the salad was, indeed, awesome. Dinner passed by in a dash, or so it seemed to Fluttershy and Rainbow. Before they knew it, the salad was gone, and both ponies sat in their chairs with full bellies.

Eyes closed, Rainbow smiled and moaned quietly, patting her stomach. "That was delicious." She stood and said, "I'll take care of the dishes."

Fluttershy grabbed her plate and said, "But, Rainbow Dash, you're my guest."

"Yeah, but you need to get some blankets out for me if I'm going to be sleeping here tonight." She hugged Fluttershy and grabbed her friend's plate. "I'll take care of this. Thanks, by the way."

Fluttershy nodded and trotted out of the room. It only took a few moments to find extra blankets and bring them out to her living room, but by the time she returned to the kitchen, she found that it was entirely clean.

"See?" Rainbow said, smirking as she hovered off the ground. Her wings flapped briskly as she said, "Sometimes, you just have to get things done."

All Fluttershy could do was giggle. "I know, Dashie. I was just saying that, sometimes, you have to relax."

"And what do you think we're going to do tonight?" Rainbow held up her hooves and smirked.

Fluttershy grinned and Rainbow touched down next to her. "I'm looking forward to it, Dashie."

The Golden Oaks Library was much warmer than normal when Twilight and Applejack entered, and it didn't take long for Twilight to notice why.

"Spike!" she shouted, pointing at the crackling fire in the fireplace. "Did you do this?"

Scaly feet skittered against the library's wooden floor as Twilight's baby dragon, Spike, rushed out of the kitchen. "Uh, yeah." Noticing the scowl on Twilight's face, he quickly backed away and held his hands in front of him. "Whoa. What's the big deal, Twilight?"

"Don't you know you could have set this whole building on fire?" She wrapped Spike in a tight embrace, but a reproachful glare led his gaze to Applejack, who seemed torn between shrinking away and stepping forward.

Finally, the latter idea triumphed in Applejack's mind. Tapping a hoof on a the floor, she waited for Twilight to face her and said, "Maybe you're being too hard on him, Twi. It's not like he did any harm or nothing. A growing dragon's got to learn to take care of himself."

Twilight didn't release her grip on Spike. If anything, she tightened her vice-like hug as she answered, "He can learn all he needs to know under controlled conditions, with me by his side, and with careful supervision."

With a groan, Spike pulled away from Twilight. "C'mon, Twilight. I've got it under control." He ran over to the fireplace and pointed at it. "Look, the wood's put in there just like you do it, and I made sure to only ignite part of the pile to start so it wouldn't spread."

Twilight put a hoof on Spike's shoulder, stopping short of pulling him in for another hug. "Just tell me about these things first," she said. "I don't want you to get hurt."

"Fine," Spike grunted, walking back to the kitchen. He hesitated and turned back to Twilight. "Oh yeah. What did you two want for dinner tonight?"

Twilight coughed and did her best to save face with a short giggle. "Don't worry, Spike. I can handle things tonight."

Spike rolled his eyes and continued his walk to the kitchen. "You'll thank me later," he said. "Both of you."

Applejack stifled a laugh in the face of Twilight's excessively toothy grin. As Twilight's smile began to falter, Applejack said, "Sounds good." She pulled Twilight close to her side and added, "That way we can spend more time together."

"Yeah," Twilight said, letting a smile return to her face. "Thanks, Applejack."

"I ain't the one making dinner for us." Applejack chuckled. "Twilight says 'Thanks,' Spike!" she shouted. A scaly claw came into view from the kitchen and gave the two ponies a thumbs up before retreating back into the kitchen.

Silence hung in the air for a moment, broken only by the muffled clanging of bowls and utensils in the kitchen. Twilight shuffled her hooves as her eyes began to dart about, examining the many bookshelves lining the walls of the library.

"You know, if you'd like, I could start looking for that wood repair spell now." Twilight spoke slowly at first and sped up with each word. Before she finished, she was already up and moving toward her books, but a hoof on her shoulder stopped her.

Applejack's lips were drawn into a thin smile. When Twilight saw it, she offered back a toothy grin and backed away from the shelves.

"How about we just take some time to relax for once, sugarcube?" Applejack asked. She sat down and patted the ground next to her.

Twilight beamed as she took her seat next to Applejack. Leaning into her marefriend, she closed her eyes and sighed.

"Something wrong, sugarcube?" Applejack shifted her head gingerly, trying not to disturb Twilight.

"He's growing up so fast," Twilight whispered, blinking back tears. A smile crept onto her face. "I'm so proud, but I don't know what I'll do when he leaves."

Applejack furrowed her brow. "He's still just a baby, sugarcube, and he loves you like a mother. You could see that from a mile away. He's not leaving anytime soon, Twi. I know that much."

Twilight drew herself closer to Applejack's side and nuzzled her marefriend's cheek. "You're right. I'm just being neurotic."

"Uh, definitely." Applejack nodded, silently thanking Celestia that Twilight couldn't see her upraised eyebrow. Whatever neurotic means.

Neither pony spoke for a few seconds. After a while, Applejack bit her lip and asked, "Have you seen Fluttershy lately?"

Twilight's ears flattened momentarily, and her eyes were downcast as she smiled and nodded. "We've bumped into each other a few times in town. I think she's in a better place now."

"I sure hope so." Applejack sighed. "I know what she's going through, more or less."

Twilight nudged Applejack's shoulder lightly. "You should go talk with her. See how she's doing. Have you even seen her since… You know…"

Applejack's flattened ears and slouched shoulders told Twilight everything she needed to know. "I'm not in town all that often, and she lives outside Ponyville, too, so it's not like I'm avoiding her."

"Applejack, things are only as awkward as you choose to make them." Twilight pursed her lips and paused. She giggled and shook her head. "Well, not always, but that's how it is here. Just talk to her. The longer you keep away from Fluttershy, the worse she'll think things are between you two."

"But what if she's—I don't know—bitter or something?" Seeing Twilight raise an eyebrow, Applejack rolled her eyes. "I know, I know, this is Fluttershy we're talking about, but still. I didn't just spill juice on her carpet or something. I… You know—"

Twilight leaned in and planted a quick kiss on Applejack's lips. "I know that you're worrying too much, AJ. She's doing fine, and she's lucky to have Rainbow Dash by her side."

Applejack tilted her head. "What about Rainbow Dash?"

"She's been helping Fluttershy out lately." Twilight draped a forearm over Applejack's withers. "It's a good thing she's there to keep Fluttershy company, don't you agree?"

Applejack chewed her lip for a moment before nodding. "Yeah. That is good. Maybe I should pay a visit to both of them sometime."

"Exactly." Twilight brought her mouth close to Applejack's ear and whispered, "So what do you want to do tonight?"

"Huh?" Applejack's cheeks went bright red at the same time that a tingling chill went down her spine. She tossed her head and tapped the floor in front of her. "I'm fine with this right here, Twilight."

Twilight rested her head on Applejack's forearms and exhaled slowly. "Alright," she murmured, closing her eyes. "That sounds nice."

Applejack's eyes shimmered as she nodded and said, "It does." Laying her head down on Twilight's withers, she added, "It sounds wonderful."

The two ponies laid there silently for what seemed like an interminable time. Their world shrank down to the size of one quiet library, down to one silent room in that library, down to a small patch of ground where only they existed. Nothing else mattered. Everything melted away until only two ponies, two loving marefriends, remained.

At last, a loud clanging shattered the moment. As Twilight and Applejack stood and turned toward the kitchen, Spike walked in, serving spoon and bowl in hand and said, "Food's ready, guys."

"Alrighty." Applejack beamed and nudged Twilight's shoulder. "I'm starving right about now."

Spike beckoned the two ponies and walked over to the dining room. "Come on. I've got the table set already."

Twilight and Applejack joined Spike and made their way to the dining room table. Sure enough, the food was warm and ready. Two salad bowls awaited the ponies, and they took their seats under the soft glow of candlelight.

"Let me know when you're ready for dessert," Spike called, leaving the dining room and returning to the kitchen. "I hope you like apple fritters, Applejack."

A smirk spread across Applejack's face as she nodded and turned to Twilight. "Where'd you get that idea?"

Twilight matched Applejack's smirk and added a languid roll of her eyes. "Oh, I don't know," she drawled, letting her tongue roll over every syllable. "Lucky guess."

Much as Twilight had hoped and Applejack had expected, dinner was excellent. True to his word, Spike had prepared their meals with competently, if not perfectly. More importantly, they talked throughout the meal, enjoying the simple fact of each other's company.

Toward the end of dinner, as Spike cleared their plates, Twilight bit her lip and looked to Applejack. "AJ?"

"Yeah," Applejack replied, reaching for a fritter with a twinkle in her eye.

"About tonight…" Twilight trailed off almost before she began. Her ears drooped slightly, and they went completely flat when Applejack let out a long sigh.

"Maybe some other night. Okay, sugarcube?" Applejack glanced toward Spike, but he had already run off.

"That's fine," Twilight said as she stood up, eyes downcast.

"We can do it soon," Applejack hastened to add, standing and walking up to Twilight's side. "It's just that things are busy at the farm. I need to be there first thing in the morning."

"No, no, really, Applejack. It's fine." Twilight forced a tight smile onto her face, but her eyes remained misty.

Applejack frowned and reached a forearm across the table. "Tell you what, Twi, I'll stay the night the first chance I get. I promise. I'm not really sure when that'll be, but it should be in the next couple of weeks. That sound good?"

The two ponies exited the kitchen and reached the front door. As Twilight opened it for Applejack, she nodded and said, "Sounds good."

Applejack kissed Twilight on the cheek and walked out into the brisk night air. Just before Twilight closed the door, she turned and called, "Good night, Twilight."

Smiling back, Twilight said, "Good night," and closed the door. She let out a long sigh and turned away from the door, but before she could make the long climb up to her room, Spike came rushing down the stairs towards her.

"What now, Spike?" she asked, her frown deepening as his wide eyes and the envelope in his hand.

In one breath, Spike replied, "I'm sorry, Twilight, and please don't be mad at me, but you got a letter from the princess earlier, and—"

"What?" Twilight practically squawked, grabbing the letter with her magic. "What's it about?"

Spike shrugged. "I didn't want to poke my nose where it doesn't belong."

With a half-smile on her face, Twilight sighed. Opening the envelope, she pulled out the letter and said, "Thanks, Spike. Now, let's see what all this is about."